NBFC Feedback on the Rutgers-New Brunswick Discovery Advantage Initiative



This report constitutes the New Brunswick Faculty Council (NBFC) feedback on the Discovery Advantage Synopsis and Preliminary Report. The feedback consists primarily of responses to a series of questions sent to the NBFC by Discovery Advantage Chair Kathy Scott and referred to the relevant Council standing committees for their responses. The responses from the individual committees were then aggregated and edited by Council Chair Anna Haley and Parliamentarian Martha Cotter.  Due to scheduling constraints, it was not possible to have the report voted on at a full Council meeting before the deadline for submitting feedback to Chancellor Conway and Prof. Scott.

Questions and Responses

Each subsection of the report begins with Prof. Scott’s question in bold followed by bulleted responses from committee members. The order of the questions corresponds roughly to the order in which the related recommendations appear in the preliminary report. 

Learning goals: Do the proposed learning goals (Chapter 2) reflect your sense of what a Rutgers-New Brunswick graduate should have accomplished during their academic career? 

  • The learning goals seem to be well-rounded, covering the broad spectrum of what undergraduates should be able to “do” regarding scientific inquiry, mathematical reasoning, critical thinking skills, ability to function as citizens in the world, and an appreciation and understanding for the arts and humanities. However, the language of the learning goals could be improved by couching them in terms of what students should “be able to do” upon graduation. For example, a current goal is “Students will develop competency in navigating, gathering, analyzing, and interpreting information effectively, responsibly, and ethically in an increasingly data-driven environment.” This could be changed to the more action-oriented “Students will be able to navigate, gather, analyze and interpret information effectively, responsibly, and ethically in an increasingly data-driven environment.” 
  • Goal 1 (Intellectual and Communication Skills) should reference languages other than English as well as intercultural communication. Linguistic diversity and multilingualism should also be included in Goal 2 (Understanding Human Behavior, Society, and the Natural Environment).

High impact practices: Another set of recommendations (Recommendations 4.1-4.6) focuses on expanding opportunities for students to engage in high impact practices.  To achieve this, we need faculty to participate. For instance, we need faculty to incorporate experiential learning activities in their courses, to add internships and community engagement opportunities into major and minor program curricula, and to involve undergraduate students in research projects.  How do we motivate faculty to participate?

  • Designing and executing experiential learning activities can be extremely time-consuming and many faculty who might otherwise be interested in adopting HI practices do not have the time or other resources to add such practices to their already maxed-out workloads. Similarly, many departments lack the administrative and financial resources to expand opportunities for internships and collaborative projects with industry.  We think, therefore, that substantially increasing the number of HI opportunities will require providing substantially increased administrative and financial support to interested faculty members and departments.
  • Some other possible ways to help motivate faculty to adopt HI practices include the following:
    • Valuing faculty community engagement and community-engaged teaching in tenure and promotion decisions, including providing dedicated space for listing this type of teaching on reappointment forms.
    • Offering small grants for faculty to develop experiential course components or 1 cr.  modules (Humanities Plus pedagogical development grants and Language Engagement 1 cr. modules offer an interesting model.)
    • Counting HIP toward faculty teaching load.
  • We also need to build on existing resources.
    • Rutgers Cooperative Extension has a long-standing tradition of HIP. The University should consider ways to increase opportunities available to students through RCE around the state of New Jersey.  On campus faculty and RCE faculty should work together to offer new HI opportunities.  RCE faculty currently provide HI opportunities through their own initiative, but there needs to be infrastructure for this at RU.
    • We should leverage additional existing resources and information, such as the Work of the Task Force on Publicly-/Community-Engaged Scholarship.
  • In addition to providing more HI opportunities, we need to eliminate barriers to accessing these opportunities so that they become accessible to all students. This involves looking at current offerings and identifying the resources that would ensure equitable access. Some other suggestions include:
    • Identifying designs for HIP that are particularly responsive to non-traditional and underrepresented students.
    • Providing the necessary financial resources to expand access to Study Abroad and Winter/Summer session programs. 
    • Providing financial support for transportation, such as buses and train tickets, to get students to community engagement opportunities; advertise available funding such as Gilman fellowships in a targeted manner.
    • Introducing HIP into the first two semesters of students’ studies. This may involve breaking the rigidity of the curriculum in the freshmen year (definitely so in SOE) and looking for new research and experiential-oriented course offerings that can excite students right at the outset of their academic journey at Rutgers.

First-Year Neighborhoods: If we implemented the proposed First-Year Neighborhoods as described (Recommendations 4.9-4.17), what is the appropriate role for faculty?  Would having residential faculty be good for our students, and would faculty be willing to do this?

  • We need to know more about residential faculty models at other universities. What are the benefits? What are the downsides? Provide more research-based information about the benefits and downsides of the residential faculty model. Our initial response is that the role of faculty should be limited at best.
  • Students may prefer residential peer mentors and RAs to residential faculty. Graduate students could be effective mentors and potential role models (in particular for under-represented students). They may not, however, have the knowledge or network to liaise with various university offices.
  • For faculty members, serving as residential faculty might slow down the path to tenure and promotion and/or compromise faculty work/life balance. If the university values having residential faculty, this should be reflected on faculty reappointment forms and promotion materials as well as through providing sufficient remuneration to participating faculty. 
  • Appointed departmental faculty members could serve as First-Year Neighborhood ambassadors without a residential requirement. 

Advising: Students have raised a number of concerns about advising, and a number of recommendations in Chapter 6 attempt to address these issues. Do these recommendations adequately address those concerns?  How can we prioritize these recommendations to address advising issues both in the short-term (e.g., websites) and the long(er) term (e.g., more advisors)?  Are there additional ways faculty and departments can make students’ interaction with professional staff advisors and faculty advisors more seamless? What should the role of faculty/departmental advisors look like?

  • The recommendations address most concerns. 
  • More advising resources and increased coordination are key to effective advising and should not be a long-term goal but rather addressed immediately/near-term.  Department officers and advisors are overextended and cannot provide additional resources. 
  • Students benefit from complete, updated information from faculty, particularly on placement, requirements, and course sequence. They should be encouraged to check course descriptions on departmental websites before registration.
  • Staff advisors should work closely with faculty advisors. Staff advisors should have contact e-mails for faculty advisors and should copy them on messages to students when appropriate. Departmental advisors should provide updates to advising centers on curriculum, requirements, and course offerings. 

Course availability: One of the major barriers students cite for on-time graduation is the availability of courses and knowing when courses will be offered (that is, whether regularly offered fall, spring, or both) for planning purposes. What can faculty/departments do to help address this issue? (Note that there is no formal recommendation about this, but it is an item that has frequently come up in student focus groups as a major issue, and we may be adding a recommendation.)

  • There is increased student anxiety on this issue. We hear from undergrads we’re advising that they no longer have confidence they can graduate on time because they can't reliably plan their schedules for their remaining semesters.
  • Faculty members are convinced that the use of CourseAtlas is a major contributing factor to this problem. CourseAtlas makes it difficult for departments, particularly smaller ones, to guarantee that courses that are part of a learning sequence will be offered in a given semester, since courses can be scheduled at undesirable times or locations and then canceled for low enrollment. With CourseAtlas, it is also difficult to produce a schedule of classes that is relatively stable from year to year. 
  • Things went more smoothly when our departmental staff and UPDs set up the schedule of classes, which was similar year to year. We can no longer build on staff and faculty expertise on which schedules work and which don’t. Instead, we go into damage control mode when the schedule is published, year after year.
  • We believe that this issue must be addressed at the Chancellor’s level.

Curriculum maps: How can curriculum maps (Recommendation 6.1) play a role in helping students navigate the university? How can faculty/departments help students use the maps?

  • Curriculum mapping sounds like a good idea that may be of considerable help to faculty advisors and students, but we don’t know enough about the uses of curriculum maps to be able to answer Prof. Scott’s questions competently. 

Transition courses: Recommendation 6.9 states that each school should require that their students take a transition course. What are the pros and cons of requiring that all students be required to take such a course? If we expand use of these courses, what should be the common learning goals? Can these learning goals be integrated into other places in the curriculum, such as introductory courses, rather than be a separate course?

  • There is evidence to suggest that a well-made transition course can be quite useful in helping new students obtain the skills and information needed to be successful at Rutgers. Giving first-year students the option of taking a transition course approved by his or her school seems to be a good idea. Requiring every entering student to take a transition course is another matter. 
  • The pros of requiring every first-year student at Rutgers-New Brunswick to take a transition course is that it may help a large number of students to succeed academically and to adjust  to life in the Rutgers community. The cons are that it would be very expensive and would force a large group of students to take a course they neither want nor need in order to be successful academically and to adjust well.  We believe the cons outweigh the pros and do not, therefore, recommend that every first-year student be required to take a transition course. We do recommend that we give first-year students the option of taking a transition course.
  • We believe that every transition course should have a “library” or “information retrieval” module in which students learn how to use library/online resources to obtain information needed for course papers and research projects, as well as how to cite appropriately and attribute others’ ideas ethically. 
  • Subgroups of students (first-generation students, international students, students from underrepresented groups, non-traditional students, transfer students, etc.) might benefit from transition courses that are designed to serve their needs. 

Career engagement initiative: The faculty and staff career engagement initiative (Rec. 6.17) recommends a collaborative effort to make students more aware of career opportunities and to integrate information on necessary skills into course objectives.  What should the role of faculty be in this initiative?

  • Career skills and preparedness can be addressed in department and course learning goals.
  • Some departments have entire courses designed to explore career opportunities in a given field and workshops on career skills. These could be used as a template for other departments to build on.   
  • Additional administrative support may be needed, since such efforts place an added burden on department officers and staff.  Assistance in creating career-oriented materials would be welcome.

University-wide services: The report makes several recommendations (Chapter 8) about university-wide services which have an impact on the undergraduate experience, in particular implementation of new business systems. Do these recommendations adequately outline a system for introducing new business processes that would avoid the issues that have been created with many system launches, especially the recent implementation of the Oracle Student Financial Aid System?

  • It remains to be seen whether these recommendations, if followed, will avoid problems in the future, but they are certainly a big step in the right direction.
  • We are happy to see the recommendation that the end users must be included in all stages of the planning process for new software or business processes, a recommendation the NBFC has made loudly and repeatedly over the years, mostly to no avail.